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Posted on Jan 15, 2014 | 0 comments

I’m still alive… Just barely

I’m still alive… Just barely

Wow, can’t believe it’s been 5 weeks since I last posted. I actually thought it seemed longer!

Probably because I’ve been going through hell… This carboholic has a confession to make. I’ve been very ill for quite some time! I try not to focus on my medical issues, but in December things took a turn for the worse and I spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital. I made it back in time for Christmas, but all the chaos of the holidays really took a toll on my body. I ended up back in the hospital just after New Year’s and have been out for about a week now, with one of these:

picc

That is a picc line. I’ve actually had a picc for quite some time now, but the one I had started to push itself out slowly and wasn’t functioning correctly anymore. So I had a new one put in in the hospital. Unfortunately they stuck it in my right arm, and I’m right handed, so I have to be careful with that arm now. They also inserted a double-lumen picc (one with two different tubes coming out of it), so it is super bulky on my skinny arm! I even had a little kid ask his mom why one of my arms was bigger than the other while in line at the grocery store. Lol!

While I was recuperating, I missed out on lots of good eats, and there’s nothing like a hospital room (and hospital food) to make you miss your kitchen! Ick.

Despite all the insanity (and maybe a few tears), I’ve still gotten pretty wild in the kitchen and elsewhere since my last post!

I am aware my definition of “wild” is probably akin to your grandmother’s, but oh well.

Let me take you through the last month:

 

First, I became obsessed with making biscotti.

biscotti
Like, really obsessed. They are always on the counter now. Bonus: they keep for weeks, are easy to make, and easy to take with you on the go for a snack. I’ve now made biscotti approximately 3,384,278 times. Sometimes they are filled with a caramelized brown sugar mix and then dipped in white chocolate (shh!):

image15

Somehow I also became obsessed with this focaccia recipe. I have made a pan of it every week for the last 4 weeks (recipe to come). It only requires a 40 minute rise, so it can be thrown together pretty quickly. My favorite combo so far is sprinkled with garlic, rosemary, salt, and parmesan:

focaccia

I knew I was cheating on my prior quick and easy bread/cheese recipe, so I made a batch of those too. These are little rolls that are stuffed with whatever your heart desires. Start-to-finish, they take about 30 minutes and everyone loves them. These guys look a little funky and misshapen, but I was in a rush and kind of overstuffed them:

stuffed rolls

 

Next, I became obsessed with making homemade dog treats. I’d made these once last year and for some reason forgot about them. My dogs ADORE these things and refuse to eat Milkbones now. So I bought the ingredients in bulk and make a fresh batch every week. They are so easy and fun to make! I’ve sent packages of them to friends and their dogs confirm it: these are delicious! Recipe to come.

dogtreats2

 Speaking of dogs, my little one got to wear her cupcake hat a few times (can you tell she hates that her mommy likes to crochet?):

peppercupcake

But at least she didn’t get some temporary eyebrows:

slayeyebrows2

In the end, I decided I have the cutest dog on earth (she is now listed as a “geriatric” at the vets office! Where did time go?!):

pooper

Although… more often than not, she poses like this:

pooper2

Okay, enough dog photos. Onto Christmas!

My mother called me to come over and help her decorate the Christmas tree. I happily obliged! All of my siblings have moved away, so my poor mother has empty nest syndrome around the holidays.

As we hung the stockings under the mantle, my mother suddenly SCREAMED BLOODY MURDER. She stood with her hands over her mouth and pointed. I knelt down to see what was there (and instinctively pulled out my iPhone?!) and found this guy:

tarantula

That is a MOTHERFUCKING TARANTULA!!!!!!!!!

How it got into their house, we have no idea. My mother ran in circles in the living room, screaming and whatnot, while I stood there taking pictures. She told me to “DO SOMETHING WITH IT!” and I said “No way.” My dad eventually came in to see what the fuss was about and he ended up spearing the poor little critter with a kitchen knife. He then chased my mother with it for about 10 minutes.

Tarantula in Beverly Hills. Super weird.

In other news, I popped my parsnip cherry. Yep, that’s right, I’d never had a parsnip before. Mom served me dinner as a thank you for helping with the tree: teriyaki glazed grilled flank steak, baked potatoes, grilled garlic asparagus, and roasted veggies. The steak is one of my favorites from childhood, but the real star of the dinner was the veg! She baked off whole rainbow carrots, parsnips, and cauliflower florets tossed with olive oil, salt, and just a pinch of cumin in the new convection oven until they were super tender. They were so good! Sweet, flavorful, and healthy. I even found myself going back for seconds instead of filling up on my favorite food of all time, the almighty potato.

I tried to recreate them at home, but no luck:

carrotsparsnips

Then, my mother invited me (for the first time EVER) to help with her annual Christmas baking. I’m telling you, I’m her only child left in LA, so I was much more popular this Christmas than ever before.

Mom’s Greek, so she does traditional pastries called diples (pronounced deep-lays) and two hand pies, spanakopita  and tiropita.

Most people are familiar with spanakopita, which is a phyllo triangle stuffed with a spinach and cheese mixture. Tiropita are similar, sans spinach. My mother has always used ricotta and a sharp cheese like parmesan instead of the feta or Greek cheese you might normally find in these. They taste amazing! Herbs and a pinch of nutmeg are a must.

Can you tell which ones are mine? My mother scolded me throughout the several-hour process for being a perfectionist with my triangles and making her “look bad:”

Spanakopita

And the diples… Most ethnic cuisines have some version of this. Essentially it’s an egg- and flour-based flavored dough, stretched very thin, sliced, fried in oil, and garnished.  My mother had lost her yiayia’s recipe and for whatever reason didn’t want to try and track it down, so we were both nervous as we fried up the dough, made from a random recipe off the internet. We ended up adding a pinch of this or that, less flour, more orange juice, etc. until we felt it was right. In the end, they were so F*CKING good! We had difficulty working with this particular dough, and stretching it thin enough. But once you top these babies with fresh honey, ground cinnamon, and chopped walnuts, nobody will care. Between my parents and me, we ate 2 full plates of fresh diples from the fryer and didn’t want to stop:

diples5

And yes, yes, that’s a Dixie paper plate. My mother loves them. LOVES THEM.

Can we just take a moment to marvel at my mother’s new kitchen?? She has wanted one since moving into that house 22 years ago, and god knows she deserved it. The kitchen was HIDEOUS–like seriously awful–and was gutted from top to bottom. A wall was knocked out, closets moved, cabinets trashed. The construction crew worked furiously to get it done in time for the holidays. And it is a truly amazing renovation. I will post a panoramic picture and before-and-afters another day in case anyone likes that kind of thing.

The new hardwood floors are fantastic (replacing old yellowed flower-printed linoleum!!!), and all of the Viking and KitchenAid appliances are amazing. The icemaker has a touch-screen, the dishwasher is so quiet you can’t hear it, and mom got her ultimate dream: A full-size oven PLUS an extra convection oven with a microwave built into the wall above it. I’m so happy for her, and think she did a great job picking out the cabinets, paint, floors, counters, appliances, and hardware.

Okay, anyway.

More Christmas baking was done at home for gifting. My favorite crispy and chewy sugar cookies with icing, and 2 new recipes–Lemon Wreaths from Martha Stewart, and the most amazing chewy ginger molasses cookies. All were gobbled by friends and family:

xmascookies

cookies

Watched this on Christmas Eve, snuggled up on the sofa. It made me very happy! (That Klimt reproduction was an early Christmas gift–I have the best friends!):

charliebrown

Christmas itself was okay. Pretty much just spent with family and various holiday parties. I was starting to not feel so hot from all the running around, but did my best to power through it. I wish I had photos of Christmas Eve and Day dinners and parties.

My sister flew in Christmas Eve and we had a great time catching up. After opening our presents Christmas morning (complete with a raging fire in the fireplace despite the temperature being in the 80s), my mother served us a mish mash of our family’s favorite Christmas tradition foods: Challah bread French toast, fresh bagels and cream cheese, homemade chilaquiles sprinkled with onion and cilantro, and leftover grilled filet mignon sliced paper thin and served on King’s Hawaiian rolls with BBQ sauce. We also had an impromptu horseradish eating competition thanks to the jar my dad had carried in in the pocket of his bathrobe. I did not partake!

My man-friend left these on my porch one morning. It’s hard to tell, but this bouquet was so large, I couldn’t find a vase to fit it in. I think it’s like the most beautiful bunch of flowers I’ve ever seen:

flowers

New Year’s Eve was spent mostly indoors. The man-friend and his roomies shot off fireworks for us. Needless to say, the police showed up about 10 minutes in. They said they could see the fireworks from 1.5 miles away and just drove towards them until they found us. They laughed it off and asked where we’d gotten such amazing ones:

fireworks

Post-New Year’s, I was totally run down. After a trip to the emergency room, my doctors called and told me I needed to be admitted to the hospital ASAP. Unfortunately, this resulted in me spending my 29th birthday hooked up to this:

IV

But on my birthday, my mother came by with these:

hospital

And I must’ve been a good girl, because my nurses brought me this:

bdayballoon

Mom also brought me some Starbucks espresso and pastries, a Coke, a box of cereal (I was on a restricted diet), and some magazines. We spent one night just doing crossword puzzles, which was fun (or as fun as it gets in there). My nurses also gave me a big fold-out birthday card which they’d all signed. It was soooo appreciated! They came in to sing me happy birthday at midnight and I couldn’t stop giggling.

I was released from the hospital late at night and immediately came home and ate this (courtesy of my mother, awww!). It was so good after several days of hospital food:

bday cake me

Notice the Dixie paper plate again? Also, that piece of cake was roughly the size of my head. Also, yes, it is Betty Crocker Funfetti mix with canned frosting. My mother has made me that cake every single year I was around from the time I was like 4 years old. It’s a tradition and I love it!

My cake reminds me a little of my homemade version, baked for a friend’s birthday a few days later:

whitecake

He requested a white cake with cream cheese frosting. I didn’t do the greatest job decorating it (hey, the party was going to be in a very dark candlelit room, so I said screw it), but it was fantastic! I used a modified white cake recipe from King Arthur Flour and created a vanilla-bean specked cream cheese frosting that was so good, I made a double batch and ate the remainder for 2 days out of the fridge (spread on animal crackers, graham crackers, and my fingers).

Pasta salads were made for quick lunches. This one had rotini, sautéed garlic zucchini, sweet basil-roasted carrots, a splash each of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and balsamic, pinches of herbs, and I added some cheese before serving. Really yummy:

Zucchini Carrot Pasta Salad

My sister had flown back to France, but these arrived on my doorstep for my birthday and are SO GORGEOUS. I don’t know what kind of flowers they are, but it’s been 9 days since they arrived and they still look like this:

bdayflowers

Okay, this post is getting super long! I’m almost caught up…

Since getting out of the hospital, I’ve been doing a lot of this:

meandpups

Friends have been coming by to bring me lots of these:

present

And even though I can barely stand up half the time, I felt the need to do this 2 days ago:

image7

Those… those right there are my raison d’etre. They were so fantastic, and I was really happy with how the flaky layers turned out. I will do a whole post on them soon! It is another “cheater” puff pastry dough, which takes a bit of handling, but no butter block, and a secret ingredient. I’ve never been so happy with how a baked treat turned out. These chocolate croissants were everything I hoped they’d be, and more.

So that brings me to the end of my crazy ass photo log of the last 5+ weeks.

Despite everything that’s going on, I’m determined to keep the blog going. I’ve received so many wonderfully kind e-mails from strangers who’ve tried my recipes and loved them, and if it weren’t for those (and the comments), I wouldn’t keep this going.

Thanks everyone, and I hope your new year is off to a great start!

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